2023 Casey Excellence for Children Award – The Shared Vision

Picture this – a community that has everything families need to keep their children safe, happy and healthy. Parents have resources to support them in their most important job – raising children. Since parents can rely on these resources in the community, they can work and have time to give their children the love and support they need to thrive. If a family falls on hard times, there is a Family Resource Center nearby that they know they can go to for help to get back on their feet. If a parent dies or is no longer able to care for their children for any reason, the child is raised by another family member. In cases where a diligent search has taken place for family members to be the caregivers and none can be found, a well-trained, licensed and supported foster home is provided in the neighborhood so the children can stay at their school and in their community.

That is the vision of communities that support child and family well-being held by the Sauer Family Foundation and Casey Family Programs, who calls them Communities of Hope. They are communities that can care for their children without government intervention and have a child protection system that is only for the very few children who are being physically abused, sexually abused or egregiously neglected. The current system that sweeps families in for reasons of poverty, racial bias and school absenteeism doesn’t belong in this community because it is harmful to children and families. The true vision is that no child is ever abused or neglected.

You can imagine what a privilege it is to be honored by a national operating foundation that shares our vision. It was a wonderful surprise to be chosen as a recipient of the 2023 Casey Excellence for Children Award for Leadership for our work in Child Welfare. The awards are given to people with lived experience in foster care, foster parents, kinship caregivers and birth mothers & fathers who have overcome significant challenges and demonstrated extraordinary efforts to improve the lives of children and families. The awards are also given to leaders and change-makers who have had a significant impact in improving the lives of children and families and building Communities of Hope. We are proud and humbled to be in the company of the 2023 honorees and we have deep respect for Casey’s system improvement work with child welfare agencies across the country to safely reduce the need for foster care.

In order to create our shared vision for communities that support families and safely reduce the number of children in foster care, we need to build out family services that don’t currently exist in our communities or they do exist, but they are underfunded. We need to do a better job of supporting communities to design and lead the prevention services, so they meet the needs of their families.

The award we received is shared by all of our grantees – community-based organizations, MN’s Child Safety & Permanency team and county child welfare agencies that work to find supportive services for families to preclude the need for child protection, keep foster youth connected to their birth families when safe to do so, support kinship care and help youth that unfortunately age out of foster care. It is gratifying to look at the budget released by Governor Walz and Lt Governor Flanagan and know they share our vision as well – communities in Minnesota that are the best in the country for kids to grow up. Working together, we can bring our vision of community to life across Minnesota.

– Colleen